Wednesday, August 11, 2004

My +3 Apostolic Succession beats your Spell of Arius

I'm going to write for the next couple of weeks on my present musings on orthodoxy and ordained ministry.

In the first couple of centuries after Pentecost, one of the Church's primary concerns (aside from local or generalized persecution by the Empire) was defining and guarding orthodoxy from various streams of false teaching, especially Gnosticism. You can see early attempts in the NT Canon, as John the Elder warns that anyone who doesn't teach that Jesus had a real body is antichrist (2 John 1:7).

Try not to read our post-modern "repression fables" back into that time and place. Gnostics and Arians and various hetrodox Christians may have meant well, but bad theology is bad for you. The early Christians ultimately decided that a Christ who did not come in the flesh cannot save, nor can a Christ who is not God. (The arguments and their refutations are quite a bit more complicated than that, so forgive my oversimplification.) I don't think the orthodox bishops were simply well-appointed, well-educated men who were trying to get it over on their politically weaker colleagues.

The scriptures themselves were not as much help in combating heresy as one would like to think. It was clear to Christians of that time, even as today that one can pull out random bits of the Bible and insist that it evidences any personal interpretation presented. From what I've read, here are a couple of solutions put forth at the time.

Apostolic Succession. Simply put, it's a second century teaching (by Irenaeus of Lyons, c.180) that maintains that the only valid bishops of Christ's Church are the ones who were ordained by other bishops who were ordained by other bishops who were ordained by apostles. This is important as the episcopate developed as a teaching office. You could trust their teaching to be truth and apostolic because they were trained by people who were trained by the apostles, who were with Jesus themselves.

I'm not sure if I can see this as a helpful or meaningful authority structure in this time and place.

First, what could be a reasonable idea during the first few generations after the Resurrection of Jesus is stretched a bit thin now. Just because all the right people laid hands on other people is no guarantee that contemporary bishops have been discipled or trained in a Christianity the apostles themselves would honor or even recognize. Extreme example: Anglicans claim the succession, but bishops such as Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania is widely quoted as arguing that Jesus himself was a forgiven sinner. The Marian dogmas of the Church of Rome certainly are no teachings that the apostles or the next several generations would have affirmed.

A lack of discipleship and teaching in the apostolic vein as evidenced by heretical teachers are a pretty big strike, to my thinking.

Second, I can think of a number of communities that meet other standards of apostolicity, catholicity and missional living that don't have the benefit of bishops on the apostolic succession. Does that make their presbyters second-rate? I don't think so. I'm no Donatist, but what's the point of being ordained by a bishop that doesn't believe in Jesus in any meaningful way compared to being appointed by one's own local community?

Apostolic succession wasn't a teaching of the apostles, either. It was a helpful teaching of the Church in a particular time and place. If it no long does what it was intended to do, and is not a gospel imperative, what's the point?

Further, do bishops create Christians or do Christians create bishops? Yeah, that's a rhetorical question...

More to follow...


+ Alan said...

Very nice diatribe St. Kyle. I especially like the last question. I wonder even, does God make Bishops out of people? Hmmm. Pax vobiscum.

Jesse said...

While I doubt I have anything of value to add to this theological discourse, I must say that your struggles above make my Protestant upbringing look really--er--traditionless.

On topic: don't many fundamentalists consider themselves the true successors of the original apostles, though they claim to be theological descendants rather and literal ones? And don't modern technologies (like, oh, the printing press) deprecate the need for a direct line all the way back to Christ, since people are able to communicate with each other and read their own Bibles and Jack Chick tracts and whatnot?

Sorry, I think the fundie in me is showing. I'll go tell him to stand in a corner...

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but it seemed to bring up a question for me: Is Apostolic succession a way of defining 1)the teaching of the Gospel, or 2)the community of believers?

After all, authority can be legitimate even when its teachings are false. The NT considers the Roman government legitimate, something to be obeyed as far as possible, and not rebelled against. And even the Lord, in the Gospels, advises the Jewish people to heed the rulers for the sake of Mosaic authority, in spite of their hypocrisy and slavish obeisance to human tradition. Thirdly, to borrow from the USA, if Congress passes an unconstitutional law, this in no way diminishes its authority to pass laws.

Anonymous said...

Apostolic succession is akin to printers who make copies of the Bible. They may not believe a Word of It, but if they faithfully print each copy, it does not make the product they produce any less the Word of God. True Christianity needs both the apostolic succession of bishops and sound doctrine, based on the truth, faithfully held by the Church of the East (Assyrian, often called Nestorian). Our Lord is not two persons, and Nestorius never taught that. Our Lord's human personality is the image of His Divine Person of the Word. Hebrews 1:3

A functioning brain (mind) and a human body assumed by God the Word is not sufficient; it takes a human personality to suffer; a divine person could die physically by leaving the body and conveying the mind into Himself, but only Christ, the God-Man, He Who is personally God and also personally Man can make an adequate atonement for sin by truly suffering and dying in both flesh and spirit, and yet also rise again as the God-Man.

Sound doctrine and authentic ministry are both required. No one is born again until he or she sees these truths fully; otherwise, it remains for God to finish the work of salvation after death as St Paul mentions in I Corinthians 3.

Believe in all that God has taught. The Trinity is the eternal offering of God to Himself that justifies God in creating life, and the Redemption is the action of the Trinity centered in Christ whereby the human race has been redeemed from ultimate death. What remains is to proclaim the Gospel so that people will not only live forever (which they will thru the eternal offering of the Trinity justifying their existence, that right to life lost by sin, but restored by Christ's redemption), but that they also live happily ever after in heaven by believing and obeying the Good News in all Its Fullness.